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Let’s talk about Masculine Feminine. There seems to be, for lack of a better phrase, a real unity of purpose to this record. The band has always, as we mentioned earlier, mixed different styles and influences together smoothly, but on this album it seems very tightly focused. Was that by design?
ME: Yes, Masculine Feminine was deliberately more tightly focused. The album was like the relative calm after the maelstrom, looking back on the recent past and trying to make some sense of it.
I had had a dark emotional time of things, and during the making of the record I managed to struggle free and get some distance from this hole. I’d had a glimpse of a polluted area of show business and the monster that is L.A. I’d looked into its gleaming, pearly-white mouth and all that I saw was desperation. I wasn’t surprised at all – too old to be shocked. However it was fascinatingly disturbing how ugly/beautiful people can be. It was like my own personal Day of the Locust, as if I were wallowing in the corrupt excesses of California.
I had a tight vision of the record – despairing people in tight corners who can still find some hope. If this makes me sound naive or overly precious, I’m sorry.
I’d relinquished a certain control on Music Lovers Guide, as my judgment was impaired by some poor self-medicating choices. However, with MF my strength had returned, to the point now where I’m clear of the BS and full of direction. MF chronicles a time of huge upheaval, then re-evaluation.
Musically, I wanted a more analog sound, more natural – it’s another “twilight” record, like Words. Whereas Guide was a vacation – a drugged vacation in the desert. Fear and Loathing in Edwards’ Mind – ha ha!
Am I interpreting you correctly, in that your emotional state, at least for _MF, was translated (for lack of a better word) into the various characters on the record?_
ME: Yes. I like to say that all the songs are literal quite often. Not strictly true, but close.
So the songs are personal but in disguise.
How active are you in directing the band when recording? Do you let them interpret your songs as they feel is best (subject to your approval), or do you tell them how you want them to play the parts? I’m particularly thinking of Jon, as his basslines are pretty distinctive and often seem to drive the tracks.
ME: Jon is given utterly free reign to play whatever bass part he hears. He is a very intuitive player and it’s pointless directing him. He’s a free spirit.
I sometimes give other band guys some basic directives, especially drummers. However, at the end of the day it’s their part.
With all extra instrumentation, I very much dictate the instruments, parts and melodies. I decide if a song needs a celeste or what-have-you! I work closely with Kate on string and horn arrangements, but she writes them. She’s very skilled, but also a very free spirit – she’s living in a yurt in New Mexico right now.
Yes, the songs are very personal, but I may use other characters or combinations of characters and found/overheard information.
I’m gonna throw out the name of some of my favorite ML songs and you give me the first thing that comes to your mind about ‘em, whether it’s the subject matter, the writing or recording circumstances, “I hate that one,” or whatever. Cool?
Let’s start with the title track, “Masculine Feminine.”
ME: “Masculine Feminine”’ is about going to the November 5th Guy Fawkes Night Fair at my local park in England as a teenager. Trying to avoid marauding gangs of kids from other neighbourhoods, being with a girl, drinking cider, smoking and kissing. It was written when I was struggling to find innocence anywhere, so I looked back for a little respite. I think that song is DEFIANT.
ME: “Saturday” is the one song that’s hard to talk about. Suffice to say it’s an autobiographical farce-noir. However, I wrote it in L.A. having seen ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. at dawn at a gas station. Not sure if that’s really related, but it inspired the song. Ha!
ME: This song is about a love affair I had with a Japanese artist in Montreal: a woman who definitely lived on another plane altogether. She created beautiful art then destroyed it. She herself disappeared.
You know, this brings up another point. The most interesting art comes from people who’ve lived. That’s a story not many people would be able to tell. Influences and such are important, but unless you’ve had experiences, you don’t have stories, you know what I mean? Plus you’re willing to share, however obliquely sometimes.
ME: Yes, I have lived; a little too much sometimes. From about 15 onwards I simply launched myself into life (and love). I wasn’t scared and the further I got from safety the happier I felt. Of course that tempers with age but not that much.
Hmm…“The Wherewithal” – you are asking me about the love songs.
These are the songs that really struck a chord – I guess these are the ones that really mean something deep to you.
ME: “The Wherewithal” is very straightforward: It is about a reunion with my teenage love years later, remembering things when we were young and realising we are the same people…we have not changed. I wrote it in a snowstorm in Maine after coming back from London having just seen her for the first time in 20 years. She glowed. I was in a bad place at that time and needed the reassurance that some things in my life had been good and true and untarnished. It did me the world of good. Walking in a snowstorm – ha!
Something a little lighter (or so I’ve always imagined): “A Word From Your Fashion Editor,” which is one of your more overtly rocking tracks.
ME: A phrase my ex-wife used when she saw badly dressed people – we were/are both clothes obsessive. It’s a tongue-in-cheek but playfully arrogant put-down song. I wrote it all in five minutes.
I figured that one was a quickie. Not for any lack of craft, it just felt like a burst.
As much as I’d love to pick your brain about more songs (especially on The Words We Say), I’ll spare you the hassle of having relive any more painful memories and instead ask you about something else. You dedicated _MF to the late, great (NIKKI SUDDEN. (It’s through Nikki that I discovered your music, as it was mentioned on his website before his death that he’d written a review for Buckeftul of Brains. I tracked down the mag because I was obsessed with Nikki at the time, read his review of Words, ordered it and have been in love ever since.) Did you know Nikki, or just find his music to be an inspiration on what you do?_
ME: I met Nikki when I was barely in my teens and the SWELL MAPS were coming to an end – he was getting together with DAVE KUSWORTH to form the JACOBITES at the time. For some strange reason we got on and stayed in intermittent contact until his death. He was older than me but we bonded. Nikki asked me to tour with him a couple of times but timing never worked out and I was a little nervous of some of Nikki’s touring proclivities!
Nikki could be difficult with some, but he was always a gentleman to me – encouraging and intelligent. We bonded outside of music as we had a mutual fascination with military history, the Napoleonic wars, etc. We could talk for hours about warfare at sea! We also both loved a glass of good port. I helped Suddy with his autobiography before he died, which was quite an honor. Apparently it is out soon…
FYI: Words is a love song to my ex-wife Eliza – she inspired it all. She was/is a massive influence on me. She is even on the rear sleeve, next to me in the Citroen.
When I pick up my guitar, I regularly play “The Former Miss Ontario” and “May Ballad” (and I’m sure my caterwauling is appreciated by none). So I’ve been singing about your ex-wife all this time?
ME: Yes, my ex. I’m sure she’d appreciate your efforts!
Another question (which may take an elaborate answer). I remember you mentioning a year or two ago that you expected _Masculine Feminine to be the last Music Lovers album, and you’re working on a new project. Do you still feel that way? If MF has some success, would you keep the Lovers going or do you feel like this project’s run its course? What are your plans for the future?_
ME: The future is up in the air. Maybe I’ll finish off my musical?
Wait, hold on – you’re doing a musical? I think I remember you mentioning that earlier. Do tell.
ME: I wrote a musical – it’s called Lads in Love. It’s about a gay hardware store threatened with closure.
And what’s holding it up?
ME: Nothing really. It is finished but these last few months my concentration has been on MF (and retaining a job!)
I am recording a solo record. The Music Lovers are on sabbatical until someone approaches us with an offer that is just too delicious to decline. This may be never, or someone might read your article and it could lead to a revival in our fortunes – who knows?
The solo record is very acoustic and is being recorded 90% analog without the use of pro-tools or computers. I’m thinking of recording it myself, then seeing who wants to put it out.
I must admit to being a little disappointed that the Lovers were not clutched to the world’s (or at least a few more folks’) bosom, but damn…I’m proud of the work.
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